NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jeff Fisher steps to the front of the auditorium and starts talking, the message to his Tennessee Titans short and sweet.
To tight end Alge Crumpler, it's nice to be treated as a professional.
"He doesn't say a lot, but what he says resonates and gets through with the guys on this team. He doesn't just blow a lot of hot air. A lot of coaches sit there and meet for an hour and talk about so much stuff, and everybody wants to go to sleep. Our team meetings are short and precise," Crumpler said.
The Titans enter their bye week enjoying the best start in the NFL and the franchise's 49-year history at 5-0, a streak that's now eight straight regular-season wins going back to last season. Fisher, the NFL's longest tenured coach, has them looking for their sixth playoff berth in 10 years and sitting atop the AFC South.
The man best described as a players' coach doesn't care what people call him.
"Our responsibility is to get the most out of them," Fisher said. "Correct the mistakes and understand that they don't make mistakes on purpose and try to pull them together and stay focused and win ball games. However you do that, there's a lot of different ways to do that."
In major professional sports, only Jerry Sloan of the NBA's Utah Jazz and Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves have coached their teams longer than Fisher's 14 seasons. Since he became head coach in 1995 after coaching the final six games of 1994 with the then-Houston Oilers, the NFL's 31 other franchises had gone through 97 head coaches entering this season.
Fisher has overseen the Oilers' lame duck years in both Houston and Tennessee, successes including their lone Super Bowl appearance in 2000 and the 2003 AFC championship game, seasons devastated by injuries and salary cap-forced rebuilding, and soap operas created by his top draft picks in 2005 and 2006.
Punter Craig Hentrich, the only player left from the 1998 roster of the then-Tennessee Oilers, said Fisher remains positive even in bad times.
"I don't think he's wavered at all. His philosophy has remained consistent. I think that in this game consistency is probably the most important thing you can have. He's never wavered from what he believes," Hentrich said. "He's very much an optimist. I think that's what people like about him so much."
Fisher's biggest challenges started in April 2005 with the drafting of Adam (Pacman) Jones, a player the coach backed strongly through a string of off-field incidents and arrests until the cornerback was suspended for 2007. The Titans traded him to Dallas in April.
Then last month his franchise quarterback balked at going back into the season opener after being booed. It got even more bizarre as Vince Young ignored a scheduled test on his sprained left knee and worried those close enough to him to call Fisher, who asked police for help finding the quarterback.
Fisher has only said that situation was blown out of proportion and that he acted on the information he was given. The Titans followed his lead and made a smooth transition when Fisher promoted 14-year veteran Kerry Collins to starter. In four starts, Collins has been sacked once with three interceptions, and he drove them to 10 fourth-quarter points to beat Baltimore 13-10 last week.
"He never threw somebody under the bus," Hentrich said. "He's always respectful of people and just kind of lets things play out, and that's just I guess part of his nature and why he's able to last so long."
These Titans are moulded in Fisher's defensive style.
Stingy, hard-hitting defence is why Tennessee leads the NFL in turnovers and has allowed a league-low 56 points through five games. A strong run game now features the pounding LenDale White and speedy rookie Chris Johnson, who ranks second in the AFC with 381 yards rushing. A game manager at quarterback in Collins, and a reliable kicker in Rob Bironas.
Fisher is often asked about how he avoids burnout as a coach.
"I'm fortunate to be surrounded with good people in the organization. I have a terrific owner and look forward to coming to work every day. The roster changes, every year it's a new challenge and basically a new team, and that's what keeps you going," he said.
A roster that now features 32 players in their fourth NFL season or better appreciates how Fisher takes care of them. Training camp included very few two-a-days or padded practices, and the coach often backs players down into walk-through mode to help them recover after physical games.
Center Kevin Mawae said the Titans are a reflection of Fisher - able to focus, stay in control and not buy into pressure.
"Even now in the midst of us being 5-0, a lot of coaches would be out there, 'Hey, we're doing this, need to do this, whatever, and hyping things up,"' Mawae said. "Jeff's just not that kind of person."